Month: November 2018

Christmas Traditions – what are yours?

Returning from Japan recently, I noted a lack of Christmas decorations in the shops and windows. Naturally, with Buddhism and Shintoism being the philosophies and religious practices, it seems that the Christian meaning of Christmas is next to none. Growing up as a child my own family kept Christmas quite low key with basic decorations ( door wreath, hanging cards on a string and the tree) Now as a parent, grandmother and creative soul, I like to bring in touches of Christmas festive reds, greens and gold with some vintage finds, hand made ornaments, cushions, candles and tinsel.

Over the years I have enjoyed going to church singing Silent Night, O Come all ye Faithful and We Three Kings. Lighting candles, fruit mince tarts, garlands and wreaths on the door, even a bunting or two adds to the sparkle in the house. The star on the top of the tree, food left out for the reindeer, sacks and stockings filled with goodies – all the merriment of December leading to the 25th.

Do you bring out the traditional Nativity scene? Are their bonbons on the table?

Do you wake at the crack of dawn with wide eyed children pestering you to open the presents under the tree?

Do you sing Rudolf the Red nosed reindeer?

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Or bake the traditional roast pork and crackling with rich pudding, shortbread and rum balls? Traditions can take years to develop in families and they are passed onto the next generation. What are yours?

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Are you planning Christmas at the beach, a country Christmas, overseas Christmas or madly visiting all the in laws type Christmas? Opening the presents – how do you do that?

Many years ago in Scotland, I did not have a white Christmas; instead we gathered at church about 11pm Christmas Eve and came home in the early hours of the cold morning to open some of the presents, then we went to sleep. Different. Surprising. Memorable.

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Sometimes the simplest traditions are the best. Gathering with family and telling them they are loved. Remembering the birth of Jesus and the star in the sky. Giving to others.

Cheerful gratitude. The magical angel on the tree or the salads and seafood at the seaside; or roast turkey and plum pudding with custard; opening presents together; writing letters to Santa, carols by candle light.

“Yule’ in Iceland starts about 23 December; The Chinese Christmas trees are called, “Trees of Light”. Santa Claus is called Dun Che Lao Ren which means “Christmas Old Man.” The non Christian Chinese call the season the Spring Festival and celebrate many festivities that include delicious meals and pay respects to their ancestors. Nativity scenes are popular in Brazil. They are set up in churches and homes all through December. And in England, it is cold where families welcome the warmth of a Yule log blazing on the hearth. Holly, Ivy and other evergreens hang a mistletoe “kissing bough”.

Brooke from the Southern Highlands in NSW ( Country Style magazine, 2018) says, ” we always go a bit overboard dressing the house for Christmas and every year I make a new wreath for the wall. On Christmas Eve we celebrate with friends and family at the pub before returning home and feasting on a ham by our fabulous local butcher, Maugers Meats. Christmas Day is spent eating, opening presents, and playing games, and then we head down to my parent’s house at Narrawallee on the NSW South Coast to spend a few days recovering.”

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Kate another creative mum looks forward to a Christmas filled with fun and family traditions. “First thing on Christmas morning, the children find small gifts in sacks hanging by the fireplace, but the real gift-giving is a well ordered ritual. I hate the idea of a frenzy of unwrapping presents and I like each person to take their turn unwrapping so we can enjoy that moment,” she says.

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I sincerely hope you have an enjoyable Christmas wherever you live. Blessings, romance and lots of good cheer. And a shared story from a Christmas anthology.

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Kimonos, Kyoto and Kusami

It’s the little back streets in Kyoto that surprises await unexpectedly. The four Alaskan travellers with their backpacks getting ready to move on. The elegantly dressed girls wearing their splendid kimonos shuffling along, and sometimes with a handsome partner. It’s the maple trees that spread across the shrine precincts, the smokers, cats, the pot plants mingled with the hanging lanterns. Someone singing. A policeman guiding the cars and more.

I love the colours of the kimonos – vibrant, patterned, floral and pastel. To rent a full robe with accessories costs 2,500 yen per day. Tax is added to the price. Hair styles include furisode, hakama, homing, kimono. The obi sashes are elaborate and can be a contrasting colour. I believe the difference between a kimono and yukata is in the fabric. Mostly silk versus cotton.

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17 year old school students on a trip from Tokyo

 

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The shops are scattered everywhere in Gion where we are staying for 5 nights. The main shopping streets are busy yet there’s a peace. With our trusty map and never ending curiosity we walk to many places passing Shrines, temples and craft stores. What is particularly nice is escaping the crowds and sneaking away to the quiet gardens. Tall cedars line the steep and winding steps, gates await, and a Buddha carving so huge that Bill cannot stop talking about it. Kyoto is the mountain home of many ancient temples and old legends. And orange is a stand out colour to mark your bearings plus some gold.

 

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I won’t mention all the names of the shrines or explain the Shinto ways and Buddhist philosophy except to say that hundreds of Japanese worship daily, bowing their heads and clapping. Kyoto has the tall tower, Nijo castle, the Golden Pavilion, The Imperial Castle, Museums of traditional arts and crafts, Manga museums, Raku Museum, Shibori Museum ( where I took a the dyeing class workshop) and the Forever Museum of Contemporary Art where I was stunned with the screen prints and installations of artist Yahoo Kusama. Another hidden surprise. Today she is 89 years of age living in Tokyo, the one on the right!!

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Inside this gallery, our shoes are taken off, put into a paid locker and collected at the end. No photographs to be taken inside the 5 rooms, except for the ones I could. The brilliant colour of the paint, pastel and fabrics of Mt Fuji scenes, flowers and pumpkins was a site to behold. I kept pinching myself for being there. I will remember Kyoto for this pleasurable experience.

When you think of Kyoto, there’s meditation, Beef shabbu shabbu, authentic sushi, rice bowls, bars, beer and sake. I’m a bit side tracked with the ceramics, teapots and textiles, so Bill enjoys some people watching and comes out with the funniest stories. It’s difficult to purchase fruit ( way too expensive), trash must be carried out with you so don’t expect to find bins on the streets.

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a tranquil scene with fish in the pond

 

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When it’s all said and done, strolling is the answer. Through the shopping arcades, the narrow pathways, the modern and traditional blends of architecture, wandering and absorbing the culture and ways. Chatting to the school students and taking their photographs added a sparkle to the day. Even though we missed out on seeing The Swords of Kyoto ( at the National Museum – a one hour wait), we did encounter the Sagano bamboo Grove and Arashiyama walking tour with sweet Kimiyo.

Travel tips

No bungee jumping off the Kyoto tower

Watch your head because the Japanese people are small in height.

A great snack to eat is a chocolate and biscuit for 99 yen at the supermarket.

Write on gift packet who the gift is for back home.

Try a calligraphy class or tea tasting ( 8 varieties of tea – matcha, gyokura, sencha, and bancha)

A touch of red in Takayama

November in Japan spells Autumn – the season of red leaves falling. We are currently staying 3 nights in Takayama surrounded by beautiful mountains and it’s chilly at 8 degrees. Lucky for my planning, we are across the road from the bus stop and easy access to the shops and attractions. The red bridge is clearly found, the red hedges trimmed neatly in the gardens, and the lovely reds found in the many museums.

Today we visit Hida Takayama Museum of Art filled with decorative arts, Art Nouveau and glorious glassware. Outside there’s a red London bus, something that Bill has not been on yet.

 

 

 

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Hida dolls are everywhere, a symbol of Takayama

 

 

The Museum can be viewed from the Japanese Northern Alps and Takayama city. It is truly a beautiful place and we picked the best time at the start of the day when tourists were almost non existent.

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perfume bottle

 

 

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a glorious table setting

 

 

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fountain ceiling changes from green to red to purple

 

Now the Hikaru Museum out of town was even more spectacular in its architecture and style. It was opened in the Spring of 1999 and showcases exhibitions of history and works of art. The courtyard is based on the pyramids of El Tajin: an archaeological site of the Maya civilisation. Western paintings, Japanese paintings, a Non theatre made of Hinoki cypress, video library, and a collection of amazing Hiroshige landscape paintings. Storytelling at its best. Jaw-dropping in its scale and we cannot imagine the cost of this mighty building.

Bill and I found ourselves suddenly being invited to dress up. What an experience. And it was free. I realised the layers and skill of the kimono carefully placed around one’s body. And the wedding dress, well, that was magical. I didn’t have time to bother about my hair but from the pictures and reality of the geisha women, hairstyles are immaculate and well kept.

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a window view to the mountains

After a rest, (Bill sleeps quickly) and I write, munching on a Snickers bar I decide to visit one last gallery but at 4pm it is closed. I am disappointed. The Ukiyoe Gallery Garon had some famous works by Hokusai and Hiroshige plus a dramatic 3D ukiyo-e-experience.

A few tips.

Check the closing times ( I actually did but this gallery closed earlier)

Pay money at the end of your bus trip, not at the beginning.( very sensible and practical)

Expect warm hand towels for dinners, not serviettes

Take out all litter as there are very few bins ( we found none!)

Take the steps – it’s good exercise

A museum Hida beef and rice dish costs about 7000yen, well presented and tasty

 

 

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